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Everything Has Already Been Thought Of

February 3, 2011

Yesterday I had a post titled, “A Bullpen Usage Revolution” and commenter Ken Arneson noted the idea had been tried before, by lo and behold the A’s before! So, he pointed me in the direction of a staff report via the Seattle Times from July of 1993:

Because Tony La Russa’s starting pitchers have been unable to get past the middle innings consistently this season, he has refused to let them try anymore.

The Oakland Athletics manager last night unveiled a platoon system for his starting rotation that he and pitching coach Dave Duncan have been sitting on since they first discussed it 11 years ago while with the Chicago White Sox.

La Russa, who has 13 pitchers on his active roster, scrapped the traditional five-man rotation for a nine-man rotation divided into three-man platoons. Todd Van Poppel, Ron Darling and Kelly Downs are in the first group; Mike Mohler, Bobby Witt and John Briscoe in the second; and Bob Welch, Shawn Hillegas and Rich Gossage in the third.

Dennis Eckersley remains the closer in a four-man bullpen.

Limiting each pitcher in the platoon to between 40 and 60 pitches, the system allows La Russa to send out each group on two days rest.

The system works a bit differently than my proposal. Whereas mine is more about innings counts, his seemed to be more about pitch counts. Also he had relievers in some cases elongating their outings as opposed to my system which would not be stretching anybody out at all claiming that those already in relief roles are by relievers because they are inferior. Also mine would be more of a rotating thing as every pitcher would start at least one game in the cycle with there being eight pitchers, so your cycle would look something like this with the pitchers being number 1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8-1, 2-3-4, etc.

The first game of LaRussa’s similar experiment was on July 19th, 1993 in Cleveland. Todd Van Poppel started the game and sure enough after four innings and 49 pitches was relieved by Ron Darling. Who finished the game with another four innings of work. Oakland lost the game 4-2 with Van Poppel taking the loss.

The next night with the A’s still in Cleveland, the Tribe messed up LaRussa’s vision when they got to Mike Mohler early tagging him for five runs in an inning and third of work. Given that LaRussa was starting this experiment mid-season and three rotations of three pitchers, he used two out of rotation pitchers to make up Mohler’s work with Joe Boever and Kevin Campbell pitching a third of an inning and inning respectively before giving way to platoon pitcher Bobby Witt who delivered four innings and forty-eight pitches worth of work prior to handing the ball to John Briscoe. Oakland again lost, this time 9-5 with Moehler unsurprisingly taking the loss.

Day three of the experiment saw Kelly Downs start (because hadn’t pitched in his first rotation spot) and pitch four innings. Bob Welch came in to relieve him and pitched the next three innings (earning the win) followed by appearances from Vince Horsman, Rich Gossage and Dennis Eckersley (though not in a save situation) as the A’s were victorious 7-2 in Cleveland.

The experiment hit the road going to Fenway Park. Van Poppel made the start, and failing to get through his 40-60 pitches of work within a timeframe that permitted the entry of Ron Darling, Kevin Campbell stepped in (it seemed Campbell was the “emergency reliever” in LaRussa’s plan). At the start of the fifth inning Ron Darling came in, blew the save (his only blown save in his thirteen year career) and eventually Ed Nunez came in to the game losing it as the Red Sox triumphed 9-7.

The next night, July 23rd, the experiment rolled on. The Moehler/Witt platoon pitched followed by a blown save by Eckersley and Rich Gossage came in and lost the game in extra innings 6-5.

The next day this ran in USA Today (no link as I used LexisNexis to acquire it) in an article titled “Three Day Plan Benched By A’s”

“The great pitching experiment in Oakland is over.

Manager Tony La Russa has called an end to the A’s innovative system of having three groups of three pitchers each assigned to pitch every third day.

He made it official Saturday in Boston, opting for a standard four-man rotation of Bob Welch, Ron Darling, Bobby Witt and rookie Todd Van Poppel.

‘We got information of value from it,” La Russa said. “It would be good in the right time and place.’

But since the A’s went 1-4 under the plan, this wasn’t the time or place.

La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan grew increasingly concerned that the system was damaging the psyche of pitchers who found themselves starting and going three or four innings without a chance to get a win.”

Over the course of the experiment the A’s went 1-4 which may have ultimately doomed it. But LaRussa’s system was slightly different, it depended upon pitch counts whereas mine with an emphasis on innings really is geared more towards limiting hitters’ exposure to the pitcher, his appeared to be keeping guys fresher. That was my hypothesis when an another article from USA Today verified it running on July 23rd of 1993 it read:

“The Oakland A’s, so burdened with mediocre pitching, are testing a radical concept that ultimately could bring baseball into the 20th century. In a move to either spread the misery of being a starter for the A’s or let the opposing teams get a shot at more of its so-so pitching, the team is limiting throwers to about 50 pitches an appearance… A 50-pitch pitcher is also the next logical step in the metamorphosis of specialized pitching. There’s just entirely too much offense in baseball now. They should do something to knock those .273 batting averages down a peg or two… And think how it will prolong the careers of some of our superstars. Nolan Ryan probably already is reconsidering his plan to retire.”

So while it was a similar idea, I think again mine would be different and could work… that 1993 Oakland A’s pitching staff was terrible and a terrible team is likely where this experiment is best conducted. But the A’s also would have had pitchers pitch much more than my plan. More to come as I delve into this topic further – and thank you again to reader Ken Arneson for highlighting that this idea is not-entirely new.

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